Robert Gillo 1841 – 1891

Robert Gillo outside his house, 32 Friarn Street, Bridgwater.
©2011 Blake Museum, by permission

Robert Gillo was born in the spring of 1841 in Bath, Somerset, to Robert (snr) (son of John Gillo), a manufacturing cutler, and his wife Frances. The family lived at 4 Somerset Buildings Bath. Whilst there, Robert (snr) marketed a resilvering mixture which was widely advertised until 1845. In 1851, Robert (snr) died.

Robert (jnr) later moved to Bridgwater, and took up residence at 32 Friarn Street, probably in late 1861 or 1862.

He married a local girl, Jane S Cogle, in June 1874, and had a son, Robert Cogle Gillo, born January 1881. At that time, he employed four female and four male assistants. Susan Daubeny Curtis b. 27.8.1865 was living at “Fryern Street Bridgewater Somerset servant to Robert Gillo” in 1881. The family apparently moved away before 1884, and 32 Friarn Street became Mr York’s Lantern Slide factory.

Robert Gillo died in Bath in 1891, aged 49; his wife in June 1897.

R C Gillo moved to Poole, married Kathleen Lilian M Seward in April 1902, and died on April 18 1916 in the First World War. He is buried in St James’s Cemetery, Bath.

Robert Gillo was principally a photographer, though he later contributed some scientific papers.

The photographs are several types. There are churches, country houses, landscapes, and portraits. The majority of the last seem to be carte-de-visite.

Gillo produced a number of pattern books. One such of West Somerset views is the collection of Keith V Strickland, who has written a short illustrated monograph (see Keith V Strickland, Robert Gillo’s Somerset, Bristol: The Redcliffe Press, 1988, ISBN 0 948265 28 0). A few relating to West Somerset are available online, such as this one for Cleeve Abbey.

Another pattern book, of Cheddar, is in Dr Cattermole’s collection (see below).

The Somerset Studies Library houses a substantial collection of Gillo’s photographs, as does the Blake Museum. There are a few examples in the Somerset Record Office.

The small portraits, called carte-de-visite, have been classified into three types by David Helmore.

William C. Darrah Collection of Cartes-de-visite, 1860-1900, contains two examples of Gillo’s work: (Vignetted portrait of bearded man with mustache, wearing bow tie. 49329. Portrait of woman wearing bonnet with ribbon bow, brooch, seated, holding book. 53274).

Gillo exhibited a Stereograph English Life and Scenery (No. 467) at the 1871 exhibition of the Royal Photographic Society.

In a paper of June 19, 1878 by Sylvanus P Thompson (Bristol) entitled “Magnetic Figures illustrating Electrodynamic Relations“, iron filings were used to indicate patterns. “I am indebted to Mr Robert Gillo, of Bridgwater, for the admirable photographic copies of the various figures.”

Gillo published a few zoological papers, particularly on beetles.

In The Mouth-Organs and other Characteristics of the British Geodephaga he gives his process for mounting beetles and other large insects. He “procures, for instance, a common ground-beetle, perhaps half-an-inch long. This he places in a test-tube and adds Liquor Potassce, full strength. Here it is steeped until the solution becomes darkened, when it is poured off and fresh added. Here it remains for ten days or two weeks, when the insect is carefully transferred to a dish filled with distilled water. With one camel’s-hair brush the insect is held steady, while with another brush, the body is pressed upon with a kind of rolling motion, until the contents of the abdomen are driven out. The insect is now transferred to clean water, and left for an hour or so, when the squeezing process with the brushes is repeated. By repeating this process, the whole of the contents of the viscera can be removed without the least injury to any of the internal organs. “ Journal of microscopy and natural science Volume 5, s. 10 (1886).

In 1887, he wrote a paper on The External Anatomy of the Dor-beetle. “There are several species of Dor-Beetles, some of which are not so common as others, but the one chosen is that which abounds, I believe, everywhere, and most certainly in Somersetshire.”

Reference to a brief obituary is given the Biographical Dictionary of The Coleopterist.

Mr Gillo’s Pattern Book of Photographs of Cheddar ca. 1870

At Messrs Tamlyn & Son’s Auction Rooms in Bridgwater, on 23 May 2000, Dr Cattermole bid successfully for an album of Robert Gillo’s photographs (Lot 591). This Lot had come into the ownership of Squibbs of Bridgwater in 1916.

The Album seems similar to Gillo’s Pattern Books in the Somerset Studies Library of the Somerset Heritage Centre. It shows pictures of Cheddar Cliffs

Gillo worked from 32 Friarn Street between circa 1861-81. The album probably represents fairly early work, near at hand.

Dr Peter Cattermole, 2011. Revised 1 June 2012. Cheddar material added 16 May 2014.